Don’t let the T word scare you off; despite a young adult audience in mind The Hunger Games is definitely worth working up an appetite for. A gripping narrative and a richly imagined world has made Collins’ series quite a phenomenon but how well will this translate onto the big screen and can the movie live up to the tremendous hype?
With Gary Ross at the helm, best known as a director for Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, there have been some daring and interesting cast choices including full-time rockstar and occasional actor Lenny Kravitz who will be taking on the role of Cinna.
HeyUGuys caught up with the unspeakably cool man himself at an exclusive roundtable towards the end of last year. (Belated thanks to the ever wonderful Edith Bowman who hosted the table.) If you like your stars leather-clad, remarkably down-to-earth and multi-talented then keep reading.
How did you become involved in The Hunger Games?
I was in the Bahamas working on ‘Black & White America’ in the studio. The phone rings and its Gary Ross, the director. He says that he’s seen me in Precious, he liked the way that I portrayed Nurse John in the film and the character Cinna in The Hunger Games has a similar sensitivity and sense of compassion and he offered me the role – ‘You can have the role, just say you want it and you have it.’ But then I had to say ‘Well, what’s Cinna and what are The Hunger Games?” I had no idea what is was! I was in the Bahamas at the time, on a very small island, without a bookstore in sight so I had to go to an area where there was signal and download the book, read the book, love the book – I couldn’t put it down, I just read it in one go and called Gary back and said I’d do it.
What did you like about the book?
It was a great story, it kept me on the edge of my seat, it was exciting. Great story-telling, great characters and an interesting situation; the whole view of this future world. Government, survival, television and reality, I found it interesting and I thought the characters were strong.
How would you describe Cinna?
At first I wasn’t too sure. I was wondering if they were going to go flamboyant with him or what, how far were they going to play into this whole stylist thing and the decision was made to keep him quite subdued. I mean the people in the Capital are very flamboyant, there’s a lot of zaniness in the attire. Cinna is in black and he’s very streamlined and smart with his style; he basically just has the gold eyes which is his signature and that’s it, he’s very clean.
But Cinna means a lot more to Katniss than a stylist?
There’s something very quiet which happens between Katniss and Cinna, they see who the other really is, they understand each other and they develop quite a bond very quickly.
Katniss’ outfits themselves are a lot more than clothes too, how would you describe them?
They’re these performance art theatrical pieces – when she becomes the ‘girl on fire’ and they light her dress and she’s in flames – they’re quite dramatic. Of course the purpose of these outfits and this whole personality that Cinna is trying to give to Katniss isn’t just to make a statement with her image but to possibly help save her life because there are people betting, wealthy people who can intervene and drop down something very necessary into the arena for her. So Cinna is trying to develop her character as much as possible so that she can be attractive not only physically but as a personality, so people will like her, bet on her and so forth.
How has The Hunger Games world we’ve imagined been created in the film?
I haven’t seen a lot of the finished world and a lot of what I did see was incomplete because they would have an area of a set but the rest was going to be done later on green screens. But I think it’s going to be as dramatic as you envisioned it, the set design was incredible and the guy who handled that was on point. I do design as well so I spent a lot of time with him going over that stuff checking it out and it was really, really well done.
Did you feel a certain pressure being involved in a movie that people are coming to with such high expectations?
I personally didn’t feel the pressure because I’m trusting in Gary and my job is to portray his vision. I wouldn’t say concerned but I did suddenly realise that this wasn’t just a book, it has a following where people are absolutely crazy about it. I started looking online at the expectations of the fans, ‘why did you choose this person to play this role?’ or ‘why did you do this?’ and I realised that these people are erm… quite into it. (we all laugh) So when I realised that I thought well I hope this is all going to turn out ok because everybody’s serious about this book which has been translated into something like 28 languages.
How was it working with Jennifer Lawrence?
Well I knew Jennifer from Zoe (Kravitz’ daughter) and when they were doing X-men: First Class here in London, I live in Paris so they’d take the train and my house was basically the flop house for the X-men cast. So I would bring different people, 6 or 7 at a time for the weekend to hang out in Paris so I met Jennifer and immediately just fell in love with her. She’s just amazing. Super funny, really funny – at all times she keeps you cracking up. So I got to know her like that. So it was quite funny when I asked Gary ‘So who’s playing Katniss’ and he said ‘Jennifer Lawrence’ and he liked the fact that we already had a relationship. He thought that’d help because I already kind of look at her like a daughter in a way, so it’s going to be good.
Who was your favourite character in the book, are there any characters you’d have loved to play apart from Cinna?
I can’t play Katniss! But she’s my favourite character. I love her strength.
And do you think Jennifer really embodies that?
Yes. Because of her background, she grew up with quite a hard working life you know? She grew up on farms and hard work and having to be quite adult at a young age, taking care of younger siblings and working really hard. She’s the real thing. She’s not just some chick out of somewhere, wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth at all. She knows about hard work and I love that about her
If you were forced to compete in The Hunger Games, how well do you think you’d do?
I think I would do really well. (laughs) I’m about survival in any situation, I’m always thinking ‘Ok, how do we get out of here, what’s the first move.’ When I was in New York during 9/11, which was absolutely surreal and tragic, I got a bunch of us actually out of the city when it was impossible to get out. I just immediately went into survival mode and found the one tour-bus left which was in New Jersey, figured out how to get to it, round up all of my people, got out. It took 6 hours to actually get off the Island of Manhattan. I’m a person who’s always about survival so I think I’d do all right.
What would be your strategy or weapon of choice if you were in the arena?
Whatever, I suppose. I have to admit I can’t use a bow and arrow but hmm, anything. I’m about grabbing whatever you’ve got to grab and making it work.
You have quite a few scenes with Woody Harrelson who plays Haymitch, what was he like to work with?
He’s great. I’ve actually known Woody for 20 years, we’re old friends and he is amazing. We’ve never worked together obviously and it was a lot of fun. He just sails through it and he’s a great actor. When he turns it on you don’t see it, you don’t see him acting, he’s just so real and laid-back.
Does Haymitch Abernathy’s character come across as quite comedic?
Yeah, he’s drunk half the time! He was just cracking jokes and he stole a lot of scenes.
What is the tone of the film?
It’s definitely got this dramatic feel as a survival game but there’s a lot of comedy as well, I mean a lot! The people who are funny, like Effie, Effie Trinket is really funny, so is Haymitch and Stanley Tucci’s character who’s the host Caesar Flickerman is really funny. Stanley Tucci is a great actor. The thing about this movie was that everybody was so nice. There were no divas, no difficult actors or any of that kind of thing, everybody was really nice – there were no egos on the set.
Do you absorb a lot being surrounded by such brilliant actors?
Oh yeah, we’d sit around and talk or have lunch or go up to somebody’s room and hang out just having great conversations. It’s stimulating being around a lot of creative people and I can see why people on movie sets become so close and relationships spark and all that stuff. It’s like being in a womb, it’s this protected place and all these people are there to make something happen and they’re together all the time. They’re sharing and eating together and talking and waiting and, I mean I’ve only been on a couple of movie sets, but I can see the appeal and why people act and become so close.
Is acting something you want to do more of then?
I was an actor as a child, I did theatre and TV and commercials then when I was 15 I moved out and music was always my passion so I kind of thought I would do both but I decided no, I’m going to put all my attention into the music and I just stopped acting. And then I met Lee (Daniels) and Precious happened and now this, definitely I’m going to be doing more and eventually I’ll do my own films. But I respect the craft and I don’t need to be the star of the show, you know? My ego doesn’t need that kind of stroking. I’m here to learn and observe, get into it and give it the respect it deserves. Rather than just saying ‘Oh, I’m Lenny Kravitz and I have to be the star of the film or I’m not going to do it!’ No, I just want to be around great creative people and sharpen my skills. When it’s time to do my own film, I’ll do it… but not until it’s time.
How did a performance in front of green screens in The Hunger Games compare to how you worked in Precious?
In Precious it’s all real and everything that’s there is there. On The Hunger Games set it required a more active imagination, you had to react to these things that aren’t there. There wasn’t a lot of CGI in the scenes that I did but apparently for some of the actors they were having to act like all this stuff was going on around them. It’s just fun, I looks like fun, it’s like children playing imaginary games.
Was there anybody on set who really blew you away?
Jennifer. I know I keep saying Jennifer but everyday, I mean she’s carrying this film. She’s in every scene so watching her everyday was amazing. The girl who played Rue, Amandla Stenberg, she’s amazing and Josh (Hutcherson) is great. And Isabelle Fuhrman who plays Clove is excellent too. Amandla just had an amazing presence and she had some quite beautiful scenes. Isabelle freaked me out, because the movie Orphan freaked me out! First off I had no idea how old the actress was, that could have been a 35 year old woman or a child or a dwarf, I didn’t know! And that’s why that movie’s so good but my first day on the set, Isabelle walks by me and I’m like ‘Oh Sh** that’s the girl from Orphan!’ And I found out she was 15 and when she made Orphan she was 13 which is quite heavy. She’s just beautiful, I became friends with her mom and they’re from Russia, Isabelle just has a great presence. I think she’s going to be really big.
It’s exciting to see this incredible pot of new talent…
Exactly, and Donald Sutherland shows up and he’s walking around the set and he’s like ‘Hi, I’m Donald’ … It’s like ‘Really?’ (laughs)
Did you have fans staking out the sets?
People were coming to the hotels, they’d figured out that we were in North Carolina but nobody ever got on the set. They were hardcore with the security. Hardcore. You couldn’t say anything, you couldn’t do anything but at the hotel they saw us coming in and out. People already had posters and it was really weird. Really a cult following.
Are you nervous at all about how the franchise is going to take off and all the attention?
No… I kind of already have to deal with that in my day job.
Did you pass on any wisdom to the younger cast members about how to deal with that attention?
They’d talk to me but I don’t really think about it that way like ‘ooooh I’m Lenny Kravitz.’ I’m there freaking out on them you know? There’s a lot of really great young talent and people who are going places and are dedicated. My advice is you just have to be yourself really. Everybody knows you get insecure, is that what I’m supposed to be doing, is that the voice I’m meant to be listening to? And the only reason that I’m still sitting here today through all the trends and changes that have taken place in the last 22 years is because I stuck to me. I never followed trends. You know, you have great success maybe one album doesn’t do as well as the one before but then things change and all of a sudden you’re hot again! But if you sell out and you’ve got to follow something that’s not you then everybody can smell it. You might have a huge hit at the moment because this is in fashion now, so you decide ‘I’m going to do that’ but then, in the big picture, in your whole picture it’s a bad move. I’m only here because people know with me they get me.
Are you involved with the soundtrack for the film?
Quite possibly. I’m not supposed to… gah! There’s so much I’m not allowed to say.
Have you met any very hardcore fans and have they told you how your character should be played?
No I haven’t. I mean there were the kids at the hotel but…
What did they ask you though?
Sign my poster!
The Hunger Games hits cinemas worldwide on March 23rd 2012.